Here we go again: The vile tactic of blaming shaken baby syndrome on vaccines

About ten or twelve years ago, back when I was in essence, a newly minted skeptic and public supporter of science-based medicine, I was so naive. There I was, having just discovered the Usenet newsgroup and confronting the original wretched hive of scum, quackery, and pseudoscience, and I thought I had seen everything. Yes, I realize these days that, even a decade on I haven’t seen everything and will never see everything, but back then I couldn’t believe that, having learned for the first time about coffee enemas, various forms of cancer quackery, each seemingly more bizarre than the last, and, of course, the antivaccine movement, there could be anything worse.

Then I learned about Alan Yurko.

Yurko, as you might recall, was a man who was convicted of shaking his girlfriend’s baby to death, producing a classic case of shaken baby syndrome, and as a result became the most unlikely hero to the antivaccine movement that I could imagine at the time. Unfortunately, now older, wiser, and more experienced, I’m no longer shocked at such things, but at the time I couldn’t believe that Yurko and his supporters were trying to blame the child’s death not on shaken baby syndrome but rather on “vaccine injury.” Worse, this lie has metastasized and become a major strain in antivaccine “thought” (if you can call it that) that has been used multiple times in (thankfully) mostly futile attempts to help child abusers beat their raps. Indeed, one antivaccine group, SaneVax, has even published a guide to blaming the deaths of children on vaccines.

Sadly, “courtesy” of the antivaccine group Vactruth and (of course!) the all-purpose crank and quack blog, I learn of another possible case of doing just this again. Here’s how the story is being portrayed after the baby received a round of immunizations on September 25, 2012:

Parents in South Africa are facing life in prison for the murder of their baby girl who died just days after receiving routine vaccinations. Baby A had received all her vaccinations on time. On September 25, 2012, when she was aged just five months, her parents took her to their local clinic, where she received a total of eight vaccinations before being sent home.

Baby A’s mother told VacTruth that the vaccinations were administered extremely harshly, with the nurse appearing to stab their daughter viciously with a variety of needles. Baby A received eight vaccines in total, the five-in-one vaccine Pentaxim said to protect against diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) and polio; the hepatitis B vaccine; the rotavirus vaccine; and a vaccine said to protect babies against pneumocococcal and non-typeable haemophilus influenzae disease, Prenevar/Prenvar.

First off, despite the obvious attempt to make it sound as though this child was somehow violated with eight jabs by an evil nurse, when in reality it was many fewer jabs, given that two of these vaccines were combination vaccines. It’s a common tactic of the antivaccine movement to exaggerate how many injections are required and jack up the number of vaccinations. Be that as it may, the child was irritable and had what sounds like injection site reactions, with hard knots near the injection sites.

Two weeks later, on October 9, 2012, reportedly the baby was doing well, playing, kicking, and smiling. Here is how Vactruth is spinning the story:

On October 9, 2012, Baby A appeared to be her normal self, playing, kicking and smiling; however, the next day things were very different. Mrs. A explains:

“Baby A woke up and appeared to be crabby and running a high fever. She was only was happy if we were holding her and carrying her. That day, I gave her Panado and was dabbing her with a cool face towel to bring the fever down. At about 15:30 or so I had just finished feeding her and gave her to my husband to burp and as he was burping he heard her gasp for like a breath of air and when I looked at her she had collapsed on his shoulder and wasn’t breathing. She turned blue and we tried to give her CPR but as we were doing that she was throwing up and still was not breathing.

We decided to rush her to the nearest hospital but we were unfortunate as there was traffic at the time and only got there at about 16:00. I could be off a few minutes, we took her into the trauma unit and they took her from us and told us to wait in a separate room. They managed to resuscitate her and put her in the NICU, they then took her to get a CT scan and then said they needed to take x-rays as well.”

After what seemed like forever, the doctor appeared and informed the anxious parents that their daughter had blood on her brain and appeared to have been shaken. He said that the little girl had multiple fractures of the long bones.

After the previous example of Alan Yurko and other babies with shaken baby syndrome that I’ve blogged about, I bet you can tell where this is going. Here’s the little girl, being called Baby A. She’s unconscious. She has what sound like subdural hematomas and multiple long bone fractures. What could possibly have caused this? Obviously, it must have been the vaccines! Don’t believe me? Take a look at how Vactruth spins it next:

This is yet another tragic case in which parents have been accused of shaking their baby, after a possible vaccine injury has occurred. Baby A’s vaccination card showed that at the tender age of five months she had received a total of 21 routine vaccinations. This is a vast number of vaccinations and it is becoming evident that many babies of this age cannot tolerate an onslaught of toxins, chemicals and poisons of this magnitude.

It is important to recognize that some parents do physically abuse their children and while I appreciate that this is not acceptable, doctors must appreciate that not every injury is the result of child abuse.

At least in this case the antivaccine activist, Christina England, who wrote this piece concedes that some parents actually do physically abuse their children. Frequently when I read these stories, I don’t even see that acknowledgment, much less the concession that beating or shaking your child is a bad thing. But let’s take a look at this case, where England’s concession appears to be nothing more than a means of trying to seem reasonable while blaming a set of injuries that include long bone fractures and a subdural hematoma. Usually, these sorts of cases of shaken baby syndrome only involve a spectrum of head injuries and retinal hemorrhages that can be spun as being caused by vaccines, not trauma. The way antivaccinationists do this is by claiming that vaccines somehow caused encephalitis that leads to the subdural hemorrhages. It’s all nonsense, of course, but that’s what antivaccinationists claim.

How one spins a case like this, though, in which there isn’t just a head injury but there are also multiple long bone fractures as being due to “vaccine injury” and an “onslaught of toxins, chemicals, and poisons,” I have yet to be able to figure out, other than profoundly delusional thinking.

There’s another thing about this story. I tried very hard to find the original source of the story. I’ve failed. Neither nor provided a link to the original source of the story. Searching for “South Africa,” “Vaccine,” and a variety of terms related to shaken baby syndrome or child abuse only pulled up England’s article posted virtually verbatim on a variety of pro-quackery and antivaccine sites. (I even found the article translated into French and a variety of other languages.) Even using Google image search on the images in the article produced the same thing. Try as I might, I could not find the original source of the story. The closest I could find was this, and it’s not close. It’s one of those Internet stories that are so common, where it’s difficult or impossible to track down where it came from. For all I know, England could be lying about the location and enough of the details to make it impossible to track down the original source.

Yes, I smell a rat. Maybe readers in South Africa or readers with greater Google-Fu than I can find the source.

In the meantime, if you really want to be appalled and disgusted, just peruse the comments after the version of the story. There, you’ll find testimonials of this sort:

my son is in jail accused of shaking his son. His son had his 4 month vaccinations and check up, he was fine and then after became very sleepy , sleeping 5-6 hour naps and not being hungry, then began vomiting 48 hours after his shots. they took him to the hospital, they sent him home with anti nausea meds. they followed up w/ doctor the next day. He just told them to give pedialite and the anti nausea medicine. the next day he was still vomiting so they took him back to the doctor. They said just to keep offering pedialite 1/2 ounce every hour. he was still puking, so they took him to the hospital. the hospital kept him overnight and gave him an IV. then started small bottles and sent him home without any blood tests or anything. The next day he was puking still and had a seizure so they took him to the hospital again. They finally did a brain scan and saw that his brain was swollen and he had blood spots on his brain. The hospital called CPS and transferred him to the children’s hospital in the next town. They said he had shaken baby syndrome. The first hospital gave him too much potassium and caused him to have 4 more seizures in transit. When the police interrogated my son and his girlfriend/fiance they kept threatening to take the baby from both of them if someone didn’t confess to shaking him. The doctors did not even consider that the vaccines could have caused the symptoms. The baby had no bruises or neck trauma. If some one shook him hard enough to cause that kind of damage he would have had damage to his neck and back or some bruises. My son has lost everything because of this. We are still waiting for his day in court. It is costing us everything we have and then some for a lawyer to defend him. I have been sick because of this and have also lost about 10-15 pounds due to the stress. Please pray for us.

As I’ve said, there’s no depth to which antivaccinationists won’t sink.